An exploration of enlightened absurdity that loses much of its appeal in the overinclusion of details.

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THE FOUNDLING

A NOVEL OF WANDERING IN THE DREAMLAND OF CH’AN MASTERS

A trio of sages explore absurdity and chase enlightenment in this Buddhist-themed picaresque from Goldstein.

Feng Kan, the first sage presented in Goldstein’s debut novel, begins his life slow-witted and without prospects for a wife or livelihood. A monk takes pity on the boy and offers to train him in the ways of monastic life. Struggling at first, Feng Kan eventually excels, performing very mundane tasks and eventually becoming the master of the monastery’s granary. After his struggles, Feng Kan finds enlightenment and goes on to train two pupils, Shih Te, the foundling of the book’s title, and Han Shan. The first half of the book concerns this trio’s mystical encounters—discoursing with demons, taming wild tigers and teaching Buddhist sutras—as well as the dialogues shared among the monks. The conversations are riddled with absurdities, the kind of intentionally illogical banter that later—in Japan—will find expression in the koans of Zen Buddhism. Unfortunately, the charm of these interactions is diminished significantly by the book’s wordy prose and the numerous digressions that explain esoteric Chinese healing practices, the structure of the human mind in Ch’an orthodoxy and the proper way to teach a wild tiger to be peaceful. All of these explanations strive for consistency with Ch’an precepts, but Goldstein misses the mark, smothering the freedom of Ch’an absurdity and apparent silliness with an overeager zeal for detail. The second half of the book contains translations of Han Shan’s poems, or those attributed to him, and these work more effectively than the earlier prose. The translator has a tin ear, but the translations are clear and sincere. More than 200 brush paintings are also included in the text, and they add vibrancy to the poems.

An exploration of enlightened absurdity that loses much of its appeal in the overinclusion of details.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-1426914683

Page Count: 700

Publisher: Trafford

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2010

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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